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Indie rock duo Matt and Kim once made a video so cool that Erykah Badu made her own version. But not all has been smooth sailing. They also lived among rats.
Indie rock duo Matt and Kim once made a video so cool that Erykah Badu made her own version. But not all has been smooth sailing. They also lived among rats.
Caleb Kuhl

Matt and Kim Look Back on Small Rat-Infested Home Before the Success of Grand

This past January marked 10 years since the release of indie rock duo Matt and Kim’s second album, Grand. While the two had been playing small gigs and releasing music through MySpace years before, they cite their sophomore release as the milestone that changed the course of their joined careers, as it allowed them to reach a larger audience when its songs began popping up in film and on television.

Matt and Kim made their debut in a time when Spotify was not yet in existence. Ironically, though, keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Matt Johnson believes that peer-to-peer sharing helped them garner a following.

“I don't think a record label would have taken a real chance on us to spend money and do some big marketing campaign,” Johnson says. “It was just people being able to share it with other people and send the music around. I remember there were bands that were like ‘people are stealing music’ or whatever, and I was like, ‘No, please, I just want people to hear it.’ I never expected to make a living off of playing music anyway.”

Grand was named after Grand Street in Brooklyn, where Matt and Kim were living during the album's recording.

“We were there for about 10 years,” Johnson remembers of his old spot. “It was an 8-foot-wide railroad apartment. In New York, it’s typical to have these railroad apartments, where you have to walk through each room to get to the other one. There was a time when my brother lived there too, and we had to walk through his bedroom to get to our bedroom. You’d find condoms in the hallway ... rats, mice. The heat was off for one winter.

"There are a lot of fond memories from there, but we ended up buying a house a couple of miles from there. The building is still there. A lot of Williamsburg has changed, a lot of it got replaced, but it’s still the shittiest looking building on the block.”

Grand spawned several of Matt and Kim’s most well-known songs, including “Daylight,” “Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare” and “Lessons Learned.” In the music video for the latter, the pair strip off their clothes to the point of full nudity while walking through New York.

“It took a lot of convincing for Kim to do that video,” Johnson recalls, “but she admitted that afterward, it was worth it. We never had much money to make music videos. It was always about trying to think of a clever, captivating idea that we could do fairly inexpensively. We [attempted to shoot the video] four times. A number of different officers came up while we were shooting. The funny thing was, they were apologetic like ‘Oh, I didn’t even realize this was going on,’ but we had a permit. We couldn’t get a permit to shoot a music video, but we had a permit to shoot a web promotional video.”

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A year later, Erykah Badu repeated Matt and Kim’s stunt for her music video for “Window Seat,” in which she is seen stripping off her clothes and walking naked through Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

“The day before [Badu] shot that video, Kim started getting texts saying ‘Hey, it’s Badu, give me a call,’” Johnson says. “We had never met Erykah Badu at this point. I don’t know how she got her phone number. We ended up getting a text from our label saying ‘Erykah Badu is trying to get in touch with you, we gave her your number.’”

Johnson says Badu actually invited Matt and Kim to be in the video, but they were committed to studio dates for their third album, Sidewalks, at the time. The video for “Window Seat” opens with a screen displaying a message that reads “Inspired by Matt and Kim.”

“I think a lot of people thought that we were, like, friends of hers that had passed away,” Johnson jokes.

To this day, you’d be hard-pressed to hear a Matt and Kim song on the radio, but the duo has garnered a large online following and are easily recognizable by fans.

“We’re certainly low-key,” Johnson says. “I mean, people stop us here and there to take a picture. It’s funny because people are always like ‘I’m so sorry, but I just wanted to tell you that I love your band.’ And my thought is like ‘Are you apologizing because you're giving me a compliment?’”

While many of Matt and Kim’s songs have been featured in TV shows, movies and commercials, the two are often still surprised when they hear songs of theirs in different settings.

“It’s always so strange hearing things out of context,” Johnson says. “Sometimes, we’ll be in a department store and Kim will look over at me and say, ‘Why do I recognize this song?’ and I’ll say, ‘Kim, because it’s one of our songs.’”

Johnson also recalls hearing “Daylight” in the opening credits of the 2016 film Dirty Grandpa.

“We went to the theater to see it,” Johnson says of the Johnny Knoxville comedy. “We recorded [‘Daylight’] in our bedroom, and to hear it in a theater as part of a multimillion-dollar production is strange. But it’s gotten less strange.”

Matt and Kim will perform Grand in its entirety on Monday, Nov. 11, at The Bomb Factory. Their nationwide tour makes for a special gift to the fans across the American cities that helped the pair become a staple in the realm of independent music.

“Before Grand came out, we sort of had something in the back of our minds, that maybe [making music] was coming to a close, maybe this has run its course,” Johnson recalls, “and then that album came out, and it just reached this group of people who weren’t even indie music fans. It was something we weren’t planning, it just happened while we were making the music we were wanting to make.”

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